Projecting Trackable Thermal Patterns for Dynamic Computer Vision

Adding artificial patterns to objects like QR codes can ease tasks such as object tracking robot navigation and conveying information (e.g. a label or a website link). However these patterns require a physical application and they alter the object's appearance. Conversely projected patterns can temporarily change the object's appearance aiding tasks like 3D scanning and retrieving object textures and shading. However projected patterns impede dynamic tasks like object tracking because they do not `stick' to the object's surface. Or do they? This paper introduces a novel approach combining the advantages of projected and persistent physical patterns. Our system projects heat patterns using a laser beam (similar in spirit to a LIDAR) which a thermal camera observes and tracks. Such thermal patterns enable tracking poorly-textured objects whose tracking is highly challenging with standard cameras while not affecting the object's appearance or physical properties. To avail these thermal patterns in existing vision frameworks we train a network to reverse heat diffusion's effects and remove inconsistent pattern points between different thermal frames. We prototyped and tested this approach on dynamic vision tasks like structure from motion optical flow and object tracking of everyday textureless objects.

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